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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Morton Feldman’s “Piano And String Quartet”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

MortonFeldman

Meiburg: No other piece of music I’ve ever heard seems as much like it’s listening to you as this one; it can turn the most mundane afternoon into a transcendent, mind-altering experience. Its dissonance might be a little jarring at first, but trust me—after five minutes it becomes invisible, and after 10 minutes all you’ll notice is that time has slowed and that the world suddenly seems as beautiful and mysterious as it really is. There’s room in Feldman’s music for your mind to wander, but to call it “minimalist” misses the point; there’s nothing minimal about it effects, and it doesn’t vanish into the background; it changes the whole scene.

BTW, a great interview with the funny, intense Feldman posted here has an interesting backstory. The interview was conducted in English in 1967, taped, transcribed, translated into French and published, then translated back into English years later after the tape was lost. So you get exchanges like this:

What do you think about the influence of Cage?
What do you think about the influence of Socrates?

A great man, without a doubt!
Yeah, but they killed him.

So, you think that Cage might be … ?
That’s what’s happening, because we’re starting to accept him.

 

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Natalia Almada’s “El Velador”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

ElVelador

Meiburg: This hushed, fascinating documentary, which the director calls “a film about violence without violence,” follows the daily routines of people who work at the cemetery of the drug lords outside Juarez—a gaudy, monumental and eerily tranquil city of the dead. It’s a good counterpoint to this year’s Oscar-nominated, testosterone-loaded Cartel Land, which works similar territory but falls into adrenaline-junkie fetishizing of guns, violence and machismo. Almada’s film is about as un-Hollywood as you can imagine, but it’s never self-consciously arty or dull; it’s a haunting story of very real lives. And deaths.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Jim Pepper’s “Witchi-Tai-To” And “Newly-Weds Song”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

JimPepper

Meiburg: In 1971, Jim Pepper, a Native American saxophonist, flautist and singer, released a unique record called Pepper’s Pow-Wow, a proudly Native American rock album that contains at least two songs I’d hold up as innovative classics of American music. The first, “Witchi-Tai-To,” incorporates a peyote ceremony chant taught to Pepper by his grandfather; Pepper stretches the meter of the song around the chant in a way that’s thrilling but entirely natural. And then there’s the single English verse Pepper wrote to accompany it:

Water spirit feeling swimming ‘round my head
Makes me feel glad that I’m not dead

If you’ve ever had to fight the voice that tells you otherwise, this line is guaranteed to move you when Pepper sings it. “Witchi-Tai-To” is one of those songs with the power to pull you out of a very deep hole.

The other track, “Newly-Weds’ Song,” is one of those rare perfect tracks, probably one of the best American rock songs, period; and it swaggers in a way no other song does. I won’t spoil its great lyric, but just about everyone I’ve ever played it to starts grinning like a fool during the second line of the first verse.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou’s “Piano Solo”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

EmahoyTseguéMaryamGuèbrou

Meiburg: The Ethiopíques reissues of Ethiopian music from the ’60s and ’70s are full of wonders, but this meditative and lovely record, volume 21 of the set, is the one I reach for most. Guèbrou’s humble, soulful, thoughtful solo compositions suggest she was raised on a diet of Satie, Debussy and Chopin—and indeed, as a child, she studied violin in Switzerland—but they’re also steeped in the gorgeous and melancholy scales or kiñits that make Ethiopian music so distinctive and alluring. The result is music that seems to come from an alternate-universe version of 19th-century Paris. The beautifully undulating “The Song Of The Sea” is my favorite, but I don’t think I’ve ever put this record on without listening to the whole thing. Guèbrou, a Coptic nun, fled Ethiopia after the end of the reign of Haile Selassie, and is still living in the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Marshall Curry’s “Point And Shoot”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

PointAndShoot

Meiburg: I still don’t understand why this documentary didn’t win the Oscar two years ago. It’s the story of an young American named Matt VanDyke, who graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in 2004 with a master’s degree in “securitystudies” and went home to live in his mother’s basement for a few months, where he dreamed up a quest he thought would give him a “crash course in manhood”: a solo motorcycle trip across North Africa. For the next few years, VanDyke obsessively filmed himself on a journey that went way beyond North Africa; we see Matt accosted by an angry crowd in Afghanistan, hanging with U..S troops in Iraq, crashing his bike, over and over, in the deserts of Iran, and—finally—sneaking into Libya before returning home. This is all in the first 20 minutes of the film.

What happens next is so strange and startling that I won’t give it away, but suffice to say that Matt gives himself a new assignment that would be completely unbelievable if it weren’t true, and he films the whole thing. Director Marshall Curry (Street Fight, Racing Dreams, If A Tree Falls) is one of the best filmmakers in North America, and he pieces together Matt’s years of footage (and a single interview) into a suspenseful, mind-blowing meditation on personal and national myth-making, war, and OCD that ought to be mandatory viewing for every citizen of the United States. It’s also a great companion to the new season of Serial.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Godfrey Reggio And Philip Glass’ “Powaqqatsi” (Film And Soundtrack)

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

Powaqqatsi

Meiburg: This film’s older brother Koyaanisqatsi is the one that usually gets the attention. Kids at my college used to get super-stoned and go to a yearly screening of it, which I don’t necessarily recommend unless 70mm close-up slo-mo of the mindless, world-eating machinery of industrial civilization in the USA, circa 1980, set to doomy Philip Glass organ drones and bass-heavy choirs, sounds groovy to you.

Powaqqatsi is just as overwhelming (and scary), but it has a beauty that Koyaanisqatsi lacks, and takes on a much larger subject—pretty much the entire “developing world” as it’s inaccurately called, circa 1986. And the score! Glass is the composer again, but he seems unusually energized by textures and instruments he’d never used before, like the exuberant Brazilian percussion and singers of opener “Serra Pelada” At its best, it sounds like a world music that’s actually worthy of the name.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Peter Matthiessen’s “Far Tortuga”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

PeterMatthiessen

Meiburg: A novel that reads almost like a screenplay, this spare—and I mean spare—novel will knock you on your heels if you can hang in and get used to its unusual voice, or voices. The author went to the Cayman islands for a year in the mid-1960s (a sleepy, provincial place then) to find the crew of a wooden fishing boat he’d heard was still operating under sail, catching sea turtles among reefs off the coast of eastern Honduras. He found the boat, paid its captain to take him out, and wrote a piece about it for the New Yorker (“To the Miskito Bank”), but he told the magazine’s editor (Wally Shawn’s legendary dad, William) that he was saving the best stuff back for a novel.

And what a novel. Matthiessen was always experimenting with form, but this was as far out as he ever went: Every once in a while, Far Tortuga doles out a few crumbs of scenery, but the book consists almost entirely of dialogue, rendered convincingly in Caribbean English, as the crew of the boat embarks on a last desperate fishing trip and meets with one disaster after another. He later said he wanted to “take all the furniture of a novel out of it,” and man, did he ever; many pages are mostly empty space. Some people were baffled by Far Tortuga when it came out (Thomas Pynchon loved it), but it remained Matthiessen’s favorite book, even above big hit The Snow Leopard, which he wrote next. He once said he could have gone on writing it forever, and I think this is actually true; I once saw a copy that belonged to him, and he was still crossing out lines of dialogue and adding new ones after the book was in print.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Nina Simone’s “Nina At The Village Gate”

\Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

NinaSimone

Meiburg: Nina Simone could make brilliant performances look easy; she could also make them look as hard as they actually were, and even her exhaustion is riveting. But this set catches her early in her career, in the cozy Village Gate (now Le Poisson Rouge), and in a few quiet moments in the show you can even hear people talking and the clinking of glasses. Without a legend to uphold, Simone sings and plays as if she’s got something to prove and doesn’t mind the challenge, and her voice and piano are in top form; there’s even a vocal-less take on “Bye Bye Blackbird” that reminds me, for the thousandth time, how completely unfair it was that she could sing like that and play like that, too. She’d be one of my favorite musicians even if she’d never sung a note.

Her voice is at an especially interesting point in this recording, though; she was still doing some of the more mannered, classical-sounding singing she later more or less ditched, but there’s a rawness lurking at the edges of it that she ollies up to and grinds on now and again, and it’s electrifying every time. The vengeful fire and bitterness that animated her performances in the later half of the decade aren’t there yet, either; instead we get the subversive beauty and aching plainness of “Brown Baby,” a raved-up, minor-key “Children Go Where I Send You” (“I’m gonna send you one-byyyyyy-one! I’m gonna send you none-by-none!”) and a gorgeous sketch of Olatunji’s “Zungo” This lady can play all night, and all morning, too, if she wants, I’m never leaving. (Opening for her that night, by the way, in his first-ever standup performance, was Richard Pryor.)

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: Pat Conte’s “The Secret Museum Of Mankind”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

PatConte

Meiburg: This anthology is the most inspiring and hair-raising collection of sounds I’ve ever heard, and probably the only set of albums that deserves to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you know Harry Smith’s wonderfully bizarre Anthology Of American Folk Music, which folk troubadours of the ‘60s liked to name-check but sometimes forgot to listen to, this project is similar. It collects recordings of musical performances, most of them made in the field, from the earliest days of phonograph recording to about the mid-1940s.

Unlike Smith’s anthology, however, The Secret Museum’s scope is the whole world, in an era when recorded music barely existed in most places, and enterprising recordists went in search of far-out sounds to feed a market eager for novelties. The result is stunning: It’s like a snapshot of the entire human musical world before recording changed the way we thought about music. It’s easy to forget that before the phonograph, music was so perishable that it couldn’t exist outside the present moment; either it was being made in front of you, or you were making it yourself—those were the options.

Our guide through the museum is collector Pat Conte, who (like Harry Smith) is a rabid fan, not an academic. Several of the volumes are incredible, globe-hopping mixtapes; others focus on a single country or region if there happens to be a superabundance of riches from there (Madagascar, North Africa, Central Asia). I’m hoping the series isn’t yet complete, and that there are more still waiting in the wings. The recordings themselves, lovingly salvaged and remastered, are surprisingly detailed, and always musical.

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From The Desk Of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg: T.E. Lawrence’s “The Mint”

Shearwater’s Jet Plane And Oxbow is an album that looks backward—to the recording technologies and sounds of the early ’80s—in order to interrogate the present and to contemplate the future. Shearwater’s moody, thoughtful style, built around Jonathan Meiburg’s dramatic, beautiful voice, turned toward rock with 2012’s Animal Joy, which now sounds like a stopover in the flight path toward Jet Plane. Meiburg used period-specific instruments; his guitar playing alludes to Adrian Belew’s work with David Bowie and Robert Fripp’s with Peter Gabriel; he integrates the stark sounds of Joy Division and early New Order. But the goal wasn’t nostalgia. Jet Plane doesn’t sound retro, nor does it sound like an homage. The allusions are there to create a sonic parallel to our time. Meiburg will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Shearwater feature.

TELawrence

Meiburg: It’s the story taking place outside the frame of this book—namely, all the events dramatized in Lawrence Of Arabia—that makes the one inside it so interesting. T.E. Lawrence was one of 20th-century England’s great myth-makers, and the heroic image we have of him is largely one that he created and managed—and which the British public, after all the horrors of World War I, desperately craved.

But after the official portraits in his Arab dress and the publication of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence seems to have changed his mind, and did something truly remarkable, even perverse. He’d been promoted to Colonel in the British army, but he decided to throw away his rank and his name and enlist as a raw recruit in the RAF under a pseudonym, where he went through basic training and spent the rest of his life in its lower ranks until his death in a motorcycle accident. The Mint, written in economical, compassionate, blunt prose, is his account of the first years of that humbling journey, and it’s hard not to see it as a kind of penance for creating the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, which he later referred to as “a cad I’ve killed” Lawrence is said to have suffered from PTSD and depression, but lurking beneath the surface of this book, which he didn’t want published until after his death, is something else: remorse.

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